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This Tony-winning revival of Kander and Ebb's musical will razzle-dazzle you.

Chicago's Christopher Sieber on 'Shows That Hurt,' Including Shrek & Spamalot

Chicago's Christopher Sieber on 'Shows That Hurt,' Including Shrek & Spamalot
Christopher Sieber
Two-time Tony nominee Christopher Sieber recalls his crazy onstage antics.

Two-time Tony nominee Christopher Sieber is a theatrical life force: joyful, charismatic and up for anything. As he jokes, “My entire career so far has been in shows that hurt,” including Spamalot (losing his limbs as the Black Knight), La Cage aux Folles (donning heels and a corset on tour) and Shrek (acting, literally, on his knees). Now enjoying his fourth stint as suave lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago, Sieber recently chatted with about the musicals that meant the most to him.

Role That Was the Most Fun
“My favorite show ever was Spamalot [2005; Best Featured Actor Tony nomination]. We could not wait to get to work every day. It wasn’t even like work: It was a bunch of friends having a blast on a multimillion-dollar set! I played four characters, beginning with ‘Muddy Dennis,’ then Sir Dennis Galahad, who had the sweeping blond hair of a Miss Clairol ad. The Black Knight was a walking magic trick, and then there was Prince Herbert’s father, which a lot of people didn’t even realize was me. [Director] Mike Nichols was so nurturing, and his ‘notes’ were like a standup routine. When an actor would start getting a laugh that had nothing to do with the story, Mike would say, ‘Isn’t that laugh like having sex with a prostitute? It feels good, but you end up feeling really cheap.’ He could interpret a character in three or four words.”

Role That Feels Like Coming Home
“This is my fourth time in Chicago [since 2004], and the character of Billy Flynn fits me like a glove. He’s fun to play because he knows what he wants and how to get it, and he has three show-stopping numbers, including ‘We Both Reached for the Gun.’ Before this run, with Amy Spanger [as Roxie], I’ve always been paired with Charlotte d’Amboise. Chicago is one of those shows that is always good: good writing, good music, good choreography, and a cast that can catch you if you drop the ball. Being asked back makes me feel like I’m part of Broadway history—walking through the stage door at the Ambassador Theatre always feels like coming home.”

Role I Never Expected to Play
“Joining La Cage aux Folles on Broadway [2011, as Georges] was a whirlwind. Jeffrey Tambor dropped out suddenly, and Harvey [Fierstein, who had joined the cast as Albin/Zaza] pulled me into his dressing room and said, ‘I want you to do this show with me. I need you!’ Seven days later, I was Georges on Broadway, and it was a magical experience. Harvey was so supportive and helpful—he wrote it, of course!—and the chemistry between us was amazing. It’s a gift when you get to work with a friend you adore and trust. It was fun because Harvey constantly plays practical jokes on stage, like writing notes on a slice of toast; he would get so mad when I didn’t laugh. Three weeks into the run, [producer] Barry Weissler asked me to go on tour with George Hamilton. He said, ‘We want you to play Albin and him to play Georges.’ And I said…‘Okaaaay. Actually, that sounds like fun!’”

Role That Was the Most Physically Demanding
“Albin/Zaza in La Cage aux Folles [2011-12; national tour] is the most demanding part, especially in this production. You don’t stop for three hours, and we were on the road for a year and three months, which also takes a toll. But it is such a pleasure to perform Harvey’s book and Jerry Herman’s songs, and hold those audiences in the palm of your hand. Albin is a wounded man: He needs to be told that he is loved, which is something everyone, gay or straight, can understand. When Albin sings ‘I Am What I Am,’ it’s an expression of self-respect that was especially powerful at the time it was written [1982]. The role was a pleasure, and George Hamilton became a dear friend. It was also a great weight loss program; I lost 40 pounds.”

Role That Was Almost My
Broadway Debut

“I call Paper Moon [1993, as Photographer], my ‘Broadway debut that was never to be.’ I was 24, and I went into an audition for ‘Dust Bowl people.’ They gave me sides [script pages] which I had never seen before. I was so excited! Katie Finneran and I had shared an apartment, and I called her and said, ‘I want to read you these sides, and you tell me if I’m good enough to do this.’ So I read my four lines, and Katie said, ‘You are really good!’ I got the job, and we went to Paper Mill Playhouse [in New Jersey] to try out, like Newsies did. It was one of those shows that got better for a while as we worked on it, and then it went backward. By this time, the marquee was up at the Marriott Marquis and the box office was open—I took pictures of it! Then our producer came in and said, ‘We are not going to Broadway.’ Making my debut had been my dream as a child, but I had to wait a little longer.”

Role That Was the Most Creative
“I developed my role in Shrek [2010, as Lord Farquaad; Best Featured Actor Tony nomination] over the course of three years. At my first reading, there was one act and five or six songs, but it just clicked. I thought, ‘I know what I can do with this guy.’ I am always self-editing, but Jason [Moore, the director] would say, ‘Go further,’ and we ended up with this ridiculously crazy character, a person who enjoys being evil, like a 12-year-old. He’s the bad seed. Then the question became, how will we [portray] this tiny guy? Someone suggested a running gag where I would be behind set pieces that block my legs. Finally we talked about the scene in The Kid in which Charlie Chaplin does a dance at the table with rolls stuck on fork ‘legs.’ I had more fittings for that costume than any I’ve ever worn, and I had to sit in a corner backstage because I took up so much space. Everyone would ask, ‘How are your knees?’ Thank god for physical therapy!”

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